Pathfinder: Kingmaker was originally out for sale in September 2018 after a Kickstarter campaign in 2017. However, due to numerous bugs and flaws, there were a lot of negative reviews. In June 2019, Owlcat Games and Deep Silver released an enhanced edition of the game, addressing a huge number of issues. Whilst the reception was not perfect, there had been significant improvements, particularly among Steam reviews.
Political themes exist throughout the game, including diplomatic actions the players can take and topics brought up by NPCs, including freedom of speech, women’s rights, slavery, taxation, and more. The game has a very long campaign, taking well over 100 hours to complete. The choices involved and variations based on class and alignment allow for large variation between playthroughs.
The setting of the game, given the title, is the Pathfinder campaign setting. Pathfinder is a tabletop RPG that uses a modification of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition rules. The campaign converts elements of the Kingmaker adventure set for Pathfinder into a video game format. The game begins with the character joining a quest to liberate the Stolen Lands from the Stag Lord with the promise of becoming Baron of those lands. This makes up the first act of the game, which mainly feels like a standard isometric RPG. There are plenty of side-quests and areas to explore, but there is a time limit of three months. Addressing major plot-lines with speed can result in extra reward, though fewer levels can make combat difficult.
The kingdom management aspects of the game begin at the end of the first act. This mechanic involves choosing advisers to solve events and complete projects, as well as developing villages in each region. Construction, events, and projects take days, weeks, or even months of in-game time to resolve. Gameplay requires a balance of barony development and resolving of quests with the main character. Depending on how quickly one completes main quests, there can be long downtime between major events. Major plot events occur at specific intervals, including events for being too slow.
Diverse Class System
There is a selection of 15 classes to choose from (16 with DLC). Each class comes with three additional archetypes, variations on each class that change how they work. For instance, a tower shield specialist fighter forgoes weapon training abilities for additional AC and reduced check penalty when using a tower shield. Every character can also multi-class into other base classes or prestige classes. There are few restrictions on multi-classing. Firstly, alignment restrictions apply to classes such as paladins. Secondly, a single class can only be chosen once; archetypes don’t count as separate classes.
Mechanically, single-class characters are much stronger, but there are many interesting and useful multi-class combinations. For example, Octavia joins the party as a multi-class wizard/rogue with the transmutation school of magic. Thus, she provides good support, has a decent damage output, and can handle traps and locks. Sneak attack also works with ranged attack spells, including cantrips.
How It Plays
Pathfinder: Kingmaker uses a hybrid of turn-based and real-time gameplay, similar to CRPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. All characters’ turns happen simultaneously. The style of gameplay is most similar to that of Baldur’s Gate, with the overhead camera at a fixed angle and mouse-click movements.
The game plays out almost identically to Baldur’s Gate; however, the dialogue options are significantly more fleshed out. Skill and attribute checks take place regularly in dialogue, with special options available depending on alignment. Dialogue options that state alignment, that are not behind a lock, represent the nature of the option and cause alignment to shift slightly.
There is a much greater emphasis on skill checks throughout the game, not just in dialogue. Mobility and athletics checks allow parties to get past physical barriers. Knowledge and lore checks allow for the identification of objects and unlocking hints. All skills have a few in-dialogue checks throughout the game. Locked chests and doors can be frustrating to deal with as a character can only attempt to open them once per level-up. One poor roll results in losing treasure, regardless of high skill points.
Every time a new type of monster is encountered, each character rolls a knowledge check to unlock combat statistics of those monsters. This makes it easier to decide what types of attacks or tactics to use. The enhanced edition still contains numerous bugs, such as the ‘Protection from Arrows’ spells not working correctly. Although some of these bugs impact on the quality of gameplay, the game remains playable and enjoyable.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is more strict when it comes to rules. At the start of combat, all units roll an initiative score that gives them an amount of time until they can take actions other than movement. For players new to such rules in both video games and role-playing, there is a huge learning curve.
The first part of the game introduces players to many mechanics of the game, though there is no expansive tutorial to guide players in a more in-depth manner outside of a few pop-ups throughout the game when something new is encountered. When it comes to kingdom management, there isn’t much of a tutorial except for a short guide describing most elements of the interface. There is, however, a quest that immediately follows suggesting the first actions to take, such as constructions, completing events, and ranking up.
Combat can be fairly difficult in many situations, especially in areas where there is little warning of challenge rating. A lot of encounters punish parties that do not have at least some min-maxing. For instance, having a very high armour class is important, and few builds can reach sufficient numbers to tank the majority of encounters.
Many areas throughout the world map have very difficult encounters that require much higher levels. They are easy to accidentally stumble into, especially those found in areas from the first chapter. There is little warning, and characters can’t flee combat without a mass invisibility spell, meaning the only option is to reload and remember the location for later. The difficulty settings menu allows players to pick and choose elements of the game to adjust, or they can choose any of the preset difficulty options. The ability to customise difficulty allows players to tailor their experience to what they can handle.
How It Looks
The art style of the game displays a mixture of fantasy and realism rather than super-realism. Environments are drawn to a good level of detail with reasonable levels of shading and lighting that match the context of each area and the time of day. The game, of course, does not look like a AAA game, but it is visually immersive. Certain areas have details that place emphasis on the fantasy theme with beautiful colours and great bloom. The visuals of magic spells also have a good, contextual balance of how much they glow; some spells glow brightly, whilst others barely glow at all. Character models are well detailed, adjusting visually for left-handedness (chosen in character creation), and each NPC model closely resembles their respective portraits. Animations are largely smooth, including attack and death animations.
There is a comical level of gore, which triggers similarly to ‘chunking’ in Baldur’s Gate. Dealing lots of damage past zero hit points causes enemies to explode into a bloody mess. Such gore won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, though the game is also full of strong language and adult themes (two companions are polyamorous and into BDSM).
Developer: Owlcat Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date 7th June 2019 (Enhanced Edition)